A change lab is a social innovation process. It is an open space, hub or platform where stakeholders work together to seize upon new developments and innovations that address the complex challenges they are trying to solve in a lasting and equitable way. Beyond technology, these innovations can take the shape of public policy, new business models, (re)framing cultural values and ultimately, behaviour change.
Over the last decade, social change labs have developed into a force within the ever expanding family of ‘the social’. From the Finance Innovation Lab in the UK to the Human Centered Design lab in Cambodia, from the Jameel Poverty Action Lab at Harvard to MindLab in Denmark, labs are popping up around the world in increasing numbers.
Hivos, too, experiments with lab-like approaches to change. For example, with Ushadidi and Afrilabs we pioneered support to emerging tech hubs in Africa. These now present a thriving scene and form the backbone for innovation in our Making All Voices Count programme. In the Middle East, by means of our Mideast Creatives programme, we support incubators and creative spaces for new discussions, impulses and ventures in the region among young (social) entrepreneurs.
Some basic premises about labs are:
- The issues tackled are complex systemic problems
- Everyone involved is an expert, especially the end-users
- Context analyses are done from an appreciative angle (what can we work with)
- A multi-disciplinary team will work collaboratively
- There will be action, trying out innovative interventions
- The group thrives on thrust amongst the members
To find out more about how labs work in practice and what they achieve, we have set up our own change labs in two crucial areas of concern.
Food and Energy Change Labs
In 2014, Hivos and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) entered into a partnership to develop, test, design and establish two change labs that bring together various stakeholders around issues of food and energy.
Food Change Labs
Currently, three Food Change Labs are being implemented in cities in Uganda, Zambia and Indonesia. All three address the future of food security and environmental health in the city and its rural hinterland. Despite different contexts, the cities all have populations that are expected to grow rapidly in the next 25 years.
Our Food Change Labs provide space to catalyse positive disruptions to food challenges in a way that puts citizens front and centre. The Lab members build on their extensive knowledge of local agriculture and citizens’ participation and use the Lab to co-create or seize upon emergent and disruptive innovations with a wide range of stakeholders, including street vendors, school children, artists and journalists. Beyond technology, these innovations can be in public policy, new business models, framing of cultural values and ultimately behaviour change.
Energy Change Lab
The Energy Change Lab is a multi-stakeholder space where experts and practitioners come together to develop solutions for an inclusive and sustainable energy transition in Tanzania. The energy landscape in Tanzania is undergoing major changes, spurred by policy and institutional reform processes, the expansion of the grid, the growth of green and decentralised sources of supply, and major gas finds. The Lab asks how this transition can deliver tangible benefits for the majority of Tanzanians in the form of better and reliable energy services, new employment and enterprise opportunities, sound investment of gas revenues for the public good, and protection of vital natural resources. How can it avoid reinforcing existing inequalities and misappropriation by local elites?
The role of the lab will be to facilitate exploration, exchange, scenario-building and experimentation. It works with non-governmental organisations, the private sector, government and academic institutions. In Tanzania, its aim is to create jobs by the developing of business opportunities, and to improve energy access and security for all Tanzanians. At a global level, the lab will link to other initiatives and aims to inspire innovators as well as international policy forums. A first global research paper has been launched, outlining a vision on the role of citizens in future energy systems.